More on H1N1 and Communion

Lots of you have written to me about certain restrictions in this time of “swine flu”.

In some dioceses recommendations have been made about Communion on the tongue. In others probably improper restrictions have been given.

This now comes from a reader.

It is in realm of rumor, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Hello Father,

I expect you may already know this. I am getting this first hand from a priest who read the email addressed to his Superior.

As it was said to me:

A letter was prepared at least six weeks ago by the CDWDS on the matter of restriction of communion due to H1N1. The tone as I am to understand it is strong and along the lines of “bishops do not have the authority…” However, it is in the Secretariat of State and there it is stuck.


Truly, I think the LORD will come back first.

It doesn’t take a letter from the Holy See. Really, it doesn’t.

This is a matter of common sense.

Hopefully this will settle down soon.

People have rights. This must be affirmed. But there are times when we can consider reasonable suggestions.

The question of contagion and Communion methods remains open.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. thouart says:

    The CDC reported yesterday that the H1N1 swine flu was the most mild flu strain in recent history with the lowest number of casualties of nearly all other flu strains. It amazes me how gullible the public is to ANYTHING they hear in the news. (When hasn’t the govt. said “the sky is falling”).

    Priests were distributing Communion on the tongue during the black plague!

    I believe any priest or Bishop who disallows reception of the Eucharist on the tongue denies the real presence. How could GOD allow anyone to be hurt in any way by receiving Him? That host is no longer bread, the priests hands are consecrated!

    Wake up Catholics.

  2. thouart —

    I don’t want to denigrate your faith in the Blessed Sacrament or the Sacrament of Holy Orders in any way. But it’s as if your faith in what they do and signify is bleeding over into faith in what they don’t claim to be.

    The Real Presence of God is not in the business of destroying His creatures, the precious works of His Hands. He made viruses and bacteria and all the rest; nor are they demons. It is presumptuous to expect Him not to subject us to the laws of the natural world, when He made the laws of Nature.

    Furthermore, it is not a punishment but rather His gracious pleasure to allow us to share in His suffering and accrue merits from offer up our pains and misfortunes.

    If He doesn’t stop us from tripping over our own feet while we serve as His tabernacles with Him in our mouth, I don’t really see that He would protect us from contracting disease at such a time, either.

    As for the idea that ordination turns a priest’s consecrated hands into germicides, I will only say that it’s not the stated intention of the Sacrament, and thus unlikely to occur.

  3. This past week I was at Mass in the Ordinary Form, and I saw the Extraordinary Ministers lining up for the hand sanitizer, which was located at the side of the sanctuary.

    Because it was so surprisingly orderly, it looked much like a ritual more often seen in the older Rite.

    At another parish the hand sanitizer bottles were sitting on a window ledge in the nave, so the hand cleaning was not quite so obvious.

  4. thouart says:

    Oh Yee of little faith.
    To think that God would chose the moment when His people receive His Son as an opportunity to share in suffering and pain is odd at best. Yes suffering with Christ is redemptive and good. Even if God did chose that moment would he not be pleased that the recipients faith brought him lovingly to accept it in humility, not by a sterilized communion dispenser?
    We live in reality and can only ascend it through faith. Look at the saints who performed miracles on earth. How terribly banal to think that God does not protect and ordain every second of our lives.

    The laws of nature are CONTROLLED by God. They don’t occur willy-nilly.
    I receive joyfully on the tongue, with no fear of disease, our precious Lord.

  5. Marq says:

    When I serve Mass I always wash my hands beforehand, and so does the priest, I imagine. At least, there’s always a fresh bar of soap at the wash basin in the sacristy. No pointless washing of hands during the Mass here. Surely hands remain clean enough to be seen and touched in the short period of time betweene entrance and Communion?

  6. I’m just curious as to whether those making the case against Communion on the tongue have also outright banned the handshake at the sign of peace. I know some dioceses have recommended against it, but many have focused exclusively on Holy Communion.

    I think most experts would agree that people shaking hands before receiving is probably a greater danger than receiving by either method because of the number of people one comes into contact with (and with everyone with whom they have had contact, not to mention door handles, etc.)

  7. Hello Diane,

    I’ve researched many of the notices in Canada; the handshake is generally banned in favour of a bow (an improvement) and the passing of the Chalice of Precious Blood has been cancelled. But these are both “optional” in the GIRM regardless. Banning communion on the tongue though is not even consistent across Canada. In Ottawa, the Archbishop has done everythign but that, in Vancouver, the Archbishop has said, “…in the hand may lessen…but you always have the right to receive on the tongue; in Calgary as we know all restrictions are listed, in Toronto, everything is still in place as since November 3.

    And we wait…

  8. I didn’t say anything to advocate sanitized communion dispensers; or indeed about being afraid to receive, either on the tongue or in the hand or from the cup.

    But although the primary purpose of the priest laving his hands at Mass is not cleanliness or sanitation, it’s fairly clear that the Church finds nothing unfitting in comparing a spiritually clean heart and hands (and preparedness for God) to physical cleanliness.

    If we aren’t supposed to go to Communion or give Communion covered in mud and dust, having a bit of care as to whether we are carelessly coating Our Lord with germs or dirt (where there’s no need – obviously bringing Communion to the sick is different), is a good thing. Indeed, it’s a sign of faith to be careful in such matters.

  9. Oh, and God does ordain that if I jump off a cliff, I’ll almost always be subjected to gravity and take the consequences. He protects me in this way from the pride of thinking the rules don’t apply to me. :)

    You will notice that Jesus Himself didn’t jump off the Temple wall to prove His confidence in His protection by angels.

    So it’d be highly presumptuous for me to put God’s loving protection to the test by receiving His Precious Blood while I knew I was sick, or breathing on everybody at Mass while I knew I was sick. What’s good enough for my Lord — behaving with modesty and sense — is more than good enough for a nobody like me.

  10. idatom says:

    Fr. Z.

    A Catholic University here and others have prohibited Communion on the tongue because of the virus, even though if done correctly no germs are transferred. I think they were against this method since 1970, this situation just gave them and excuse to out law it. Many drink from the common cup wiped with the same cloth no problem with H1N1 there. Yeah right.

    Tom Lanter

  11. MichaelJ says:

    Unless the laity (here I distinguish, perhaps mistakenly, between the “laity” and lay ministers of Communion)also use hand sanitizer before they themselves receive, I do not see how eliminating Communion on the tongue will do anything except increase the spread of viruses.

    Perhaps if the parish had a Ministry of Lysol that was charged with disinfecting everything that I might possibly touch before I touched it, this policy would actually meet its stated intent.

  12. One doesn’t receive viruses and bacteria via the mouth, but through the mucous lining of the nose and through the eyes. If the priest is somehow touching one’s nose, then a person might have cause to worry. But, c’mon–hand to hand is more common for spreading germs because people can’t stop scratching their eyes and noses afterwards.

  13. tzard says:

    There are things more deadly than viruses. Sometimes it’s pride.

    Our pastor asked us to receive in the hand – again this was a request, and in practice those receiving on the tongue are not treated any differently.

    While I could still in good conscience receive on the tongue, and truthfully the danger of this virus – even in the physical realm – is much overblown. I still found myself with a simple request from my pastor I had to deal with. I found myself reacting pridefully – and I recognized that. So, I received on the hand the past two Sundays. If only for the sake of my own soul. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll continue – probably when there is less danger from the other sickness, the one of pride.

    (Just to be clear, this is a personal observation only – if it helps others or not, so be it.)

  14. Jerry says:

    re: thouart – “To think that God would chose the moment when His people receive His Son as an opportunity to share in suffering and pain is odd at best.”

    Why is it odd that God might choose the commemoration of His Son’s suffering and death to present us with an opportunity to join Him in suffering? To do so would also emphasize that salvation of the soul is not only more important than salvation of the body, but that it might require sacrificing the body.

  15. Jerry says:

    “One doesn’t receive viruses and bacteria via the mouth, but through the mucous lining of the nose and through the eyes.”

    Viruses and bacteria can enter the respiratory tract through the mouth, nose, or the eyes (which drain into the nose via the nasolacrimal duct). The H1N1 virus in particular infects and can cause severe damage to the lungs. It is easier for respiratory pathogens to reach the lungs via than mouth than the nose because the mouth lacks the defense mechanisms which tend to trap contaminants in the nose.

    “If the priest is somehow touching one’s nose, then a person might have cause to worry. But, c’mon—hand to hand is more common for spreading germs because people can’t stop scratching their eyes and noses afterwards.”

    Is there actually hand-to-hand contact when Holy Communion is distributed in the hand? Or are the minister’s and communicant’s hands touching different parts of the consecrated host?

  16. jfk03 says:

    As an Eastern (Ukranian Greek) Catholic I am used to receiving communion on a spoon directly from the priest. Several weeks ago, while on a trip, I attended church in the Cathedral (Latin) in Sacramento. The priest announced that the bishop requested communicants to receive in the hand. I did not feel good about this; but I complied with the priest’s request rather than make a scene.

    Hopefully the controversy will blow over in a few months once the flu season is over.

  17. fenetre says:

    My 2 cents. I am from Toronto. I always receive on the tongue, kneeling. Since the beginning of November when the directive was issued, I continue to go to daily Mass, receive Communion in the hand, kneeling. I do the same on Sunday. The priests have no problem with that since technically I am still in obedience. Some visiting priests may get confused, trying to give me Communion on the tongue while I hold out my hands. I always forget whether left on right or right on left.

    Apart from personal feelings, I think I’m exposed to all sorts of germs that I normally are not exposed to, through contact via hands. I have to use my hand repeatedly to lift/lower the kneeler during Mass (cannot use my foot because it is very heavy, it slams easily, and cannot keep it down anyway since people need to pass when it is time to receive Communion) while people step on and kick the kneelers all the time. I need to use my hands to open and read from “Breaking Bread” and Sunday Missal, both used in common. I try to stick to using only my fingers and keep the palms clean, but then when I close my hands in prayer the germs are all over them anyway. When I receive Communion in my hand I receive it immediately with my tongue from my palm, and giving my palm a good lick, hopefully getting all the crumbs. However many germs may be there, I ingest them too, technically speaking. I do not like the taste of hand sanitizer.

    It’s been more than a month now, everyone seems to be feeling the strain, including the priests. Lately some of them seem to be rather forgetful and keep trying to give me Communion on the tongue. I no longer know how I feel. Never mind that. I am sick with a bad cold now, not H1N1, at least I don’t think so. I don’t know where I picked it up and I won’t speculate.

    I have been waiting for Rome’s reply to come back, hoping that come Christmas I may receive on the tongue again. David, any news? Bruno, you heard anything more from Monsignor Luca? I heard we now have a Nuncio to Canada. The combox on the previous post is now closed. I hope you’re reading this …

  18. No news fenetre…like you we wait in patient hope for a resolution. This is really wearing on a lot of people and many I know are refraining from Holy Communion because of this. I know I can’t withdraw from the Eucharist for an extended period such as this. It really is time for them to end this thing and never do it again!

    Oh how I long to hear in this regard:

    Roma locutus est, causa finita est!

  19. thouart says:

    I find refuge in the SSPX who don’t recognize the swine flu as something of any significance, and are keenly aware that God has control of the entire situation.
    Unlike most, who simply must take that control out of God’s hands.

  20. MichaelJ says:

    I may be wrong, but I do not think that it is direct hand to hand contact that is the primay vector for the spread of a virus. Instead (and I am not a medical expert) it is hand to object to hand. Consider this:

    The Church I attend has three main doors through which the laity enter and one, at the sacristy, through which the priest enters. If one parishoner has the flu and sneezed on his hands, he will likely contaminate one of those doors. Now, if your Mass has 20 EMHC’s, it is more likely that one of them has come into contact with a contaminated doorknob and will likely contaminate the host. Everyone that they give communion to will then have an increased chance of infection.

    If what you say is true though, that it is easier for respiratory pathogens to reach the lungs via the mouth than the nose, then the debate about whether to suspend Communion on the tongue is meaningless. Both methods would seem to have an equal chance of spreading the virus.

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    This is all just one more ruse to control people, in this case, people who want to receive on the tongue.

  22. Jerry says:

    re: MichaelJ – “Now, if your Mass has 20 EMHC’s, it is more likely that one of them has come into contact with a contaminated doorknob and will likely contaminate the host”

    As I understand it, the EMHCs are supposed to sanitize their hands prior to distributing Holy Communion, which should mitigate the infection scenario you describe.

    re: kneeling catholic – “why hand Communion can never be more hygienic”

    Without actual measurements, the stick diagrams in the article you linked to are not at all convincing. Photographs would be even better.

  23. fenetre says:

    Deo gratias! The Archbishop has lifted the ban on Communion on the tongue … we can receive on the tongue effective tomorrow! He also asked for Holy water fonts to be provided for the faithful. Here’s the link: I don’t know how to attach the pdf …. I am too full for words right now …

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